HOW YOU CAN EXPERIENCE REAL FREEDOM IN YOUR LIFE

One of the subtle ways in which we can be deceived is when we have been raised in a genuine Christian home environment and then assume that we are Christians because we have an intellectual acceptance of Christ and the Christian faith. Genuine faith is internalized and is the motivating principle and passion of our lives. It is what Jesus told Nicodemus, a religious leader in his day, that his need was to have a ‘spiritual birth.’ The theological concept is to be ‘regenerated’, or made alive spiritually. This is where God’s Spirit enters our lives and brings healing, hope, and meaning into our lives.

How do we know that we are ‘born of God’? Jesus becomes first in our lives. We now are concerned about pleasing Him and have a desire for the things of God.

It is a wonderful gift to grow up in a godly home, where Christ is revealed through the life of a godly parent or parents. However, godly people do not always produce godly children. Christian faith must be embraced by each person. Over the years one of the great illustrations of a godly home was that of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards whose many descendants followed their faith steps, but unfortunately, not all. Aaron Burr, was one of their grandsons, who had an infamous history. Though Burr became one of the founding fathers of the U.S. and eventually became the third Vice-President of the U.S. and served under Thomas Jefferson during Jefferson’s first term of office, he is infamously noted for two things that reveal his ungodly character. He was the individual who killed Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary treasurer of the U.S. in a duel.

Dueling had been outlawed in 1804, so Burr fled the arrest warrant and sought an alliance with a military friend, James Wilkinson, who was then governor of Louisiana. Wilkinson was secretly in the pay of Spain. Expecting war to break out between the U.S. and Spain, Burr and Wilkinson planned an invasion of Mexico to establish an independent government there. They were also discussing a way to create a new nation by having some of the territories in the western U.S. become a separate nation. Wilkinson was concerned about being caught and so revealed to President Jefferson this plan. Burr was charged with treason, captured, and tried, but was acquitted on a technicality. Still under suspicion, Burr went to Europe where he tried in vain to persuade Napoleon to invade Florida. He remained in Europe for four years, where he lived in a state of constant financial indebtedness. He returned to New York in 1812 to practice law, and years later married a wealthy widow, in which he squandered her wealth within a year. She filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery, and was granted her petition of divorce on the day of Burr’s death. Aaron Burr’s life began with all the advantage of a gospel home but he ended his life in shame, driven by selfish desires that brought great heartache to himself and others.

In John 8:31-59 we find Jesus challenging both his disciples and the Jewish people at the Temple regarding putting their faith in the wrong things. Many Jewish people felt that because of their racial lineage and heritage that they were God’s children based solely upon their lineage. Jesus explains to them that they must have a spiritual lineage, one where they needed to know and trust Jesus as the Messiah to become a part of God’s spiritual family. What was true for them is equally true for us. In exposing their false hope, Jesus explains who He is. What they did with that information defined their lives, just as it does for us today.

There are two critical element in us knowing God and living free. These two points are at the heart of Jesus’ engagement and teaching in the Temple, which John challenges us, the reader to respond to. 

THE FIRST CRITICAL ELEMENT IN KNOWING GOD AND LIVING FREE IS OUR STATUS AS GOD’S CHILDREN

It begins with the issue of parentage, or simply put, ‘Who is our father? Who do we belong to?’ This can be identified by what we truly believe and apply in our lives. It can be seen by the spiritual freedom we have in our lives. 

A. The importance of perseverance in the Christian life.

In this section of Jesus’ temple message, we discover that he is warning his hearers to persevere in their faith.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.[i]

Truth is found in a person. Jesus is the truth and we must hold on to him and what he says. Jesus now makes a distinction between an enduring or a fickle or wavering faith. This is a perpetual problem in the church. Who are the real believers? Is it simply people who believe the right things, or those who act upon what they believe? This can only be determined over time. Jesus in his ‘signs of the times’ message in Matthew 24 explains the critical nature of endurance or perseverance in our faith.

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.[ii]

This idea of being spiritually fickle had already been introduced earlier in the gospel.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.

He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.[iii]

Jesus is aware of the spiritual instability within the human heart. We may have every good intention, but often self-interest moves us away from real lasting commitment. Later in John 6, we find that when some of the teaching offended them, the result was that many stopped following him.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?

Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.

He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’

From this time many of the disciples turned back and no longer followed him.[iv]

In short, perseverance is the mark of true faith, of real disciples. A genuine believer remains in Jesus’ ‘word’, his teaching. Such a person obeys it, seeks to understand it better, and finds it more precious, more controlling, precisely when other forces flatly oppose it.[v]

B. The challenge of spiritual blindness.

The greatest problems of humanity is the inability to understand and see our true condition. Where do we place our confidence and trust in? Ourselves, others, or our society? Ultimately, it must be in Jesus and what He is telling us. We need to have confidence in God’s word. Jesus addresses the ultimate freedom from our greatest problem, namely sin. Jesus is talking about spiritual freedom. The Jewish audience here takes exception to Jesus’ words.

They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’[vi]

It is obvious that they were not speaking about political freedom for they had been subjugated for centuries by various empires, from the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and now the Romans, but they thought of themselves as free in a spiritual sense. Jesus explains what spiritual freedom is all about. They assume it came as a result of being a part of God’s covenant community, based upon their racial connection with their past. However, upon looking at the Old Testament, one realizes that there has always been a divide between those who obeyed God and those who were practicing a ritualistic or ceremonial religion. It was simply external. Jesus explains that one leads to freedom the other is simply slavery.

C. The issue of spiritual freedom.

Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’.[vii]

Jesus is saying that if sin is a habitual practice, then we have become sin’s slave. Donald Carson explains the nature of this slavery.

The practice of sin enslaves. For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who made us. The despotic master is not Caesar, but shameful self-centredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.[viii]    

Jesus strikes at the heart of their self-assurance with these comments because a slave has no permanent place in the life of the family, but a son belongs forever. What is interesting about this comment is that the son referred to is actually Jesus.

The genuine son in this context is not the Christian, but Christ himself (the Greek word for ‘son’ is ho huios, always used in John for Jesus Christ; believers are ta tekna tou theou, ‘children of God’). Jesus has the authority to set slaves free, as he states it, ‘so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’[ix]

But what does this mean? 

True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.[x]

D. Behavior reveals whose father we belong to.

I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.

I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

“Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.

As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.

You are doing the works of your own father.’ ‘We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested. ‘The only Father we have is God himself.’[xi]

Jesus agrees that physically they can trace their ancestry to Abraham, but their behavior is unlike Abraham. Their response to the words that Jesus is speaking reveals that they are Jews, God’s covenant people, but the problem is that it is simply an outward profession. Their hearts are far from God. Paul makes this argument in Romans.

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.

No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.[xii]

When Jesus and Paul are speaking about a true Jewish person, they are speaking of one who is in actual covenant relationship with God, not just a person who is racially Jewish. The point being is that someone who knows God, not only believes the right things, but lives the right way because love is the dominant characteristic of the true believer’s life. While they were pointing to Abraham as the father of their faith, Jesus was pointing out that they were not acting like Abraham, who responded to God’s word by acting upon it. Jesus points that two things would be evident if they truly knew God. They would love him and listen and act upon his word.           

Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!’[xiii]

Jesus insists on using the terms ‘father’ and ‘children’ in an ethical sense: the children are those who reproduce the father’s qualities.[xiv]

That is why Jesus states that they belonged to their father, the devil because like the devil who destroys life and repudiates the truth, that is the behavior of these who were listening to Jesus. What characteristics do we manifest? We either believe the truth or the lie. It was the lie of the enemy in the garden that deceived the woman. Paul also describes the operation of evil deceiving those who are perishing.

and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.[xv]

It is not that the lie is more convincing, but people would rather believe it because what they want to do is wrong, so they suppress the truth and embrace the lie, which ultimately leads to death.

E. The question that is raised.

Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?

Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.[xvi]

Jesus did not ask if anyone think him guilty of sin, for there were many false accusations against Jesus, such as being a Sabbath breaker, and ultimately, they accused him of blasphemy. However, an examination of Jesus’ life reveals his personal holiness and purity. His life was challenging them, but the fundamental reason they couldn’t hear his message was that they really did not know God.

II. THE SECOND CRITICAL ELEMENT IN KNOWING GOD AND LIVING FREE IS OUR ACCEPTANCE OF WHO JESUS IS

It always comes down to who do we think Jesus is. Our answer determines the life can have both now and forever. Here we see what these opponents of Jesus thought about him.      

The Jews answered him, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’[xvii]

The fact that Jesus addressed their lineage as a fellow Jew probably prompted these remarks. Knowing the long standing tensions between Jews and Samaritans, this was considered a derogatory, slanderous remark, along with being called demon possessed.    

‘I am not possessed by a demon,’ said Jesus, ‘but I honor my Father and you dishonor me.

I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.

Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.’

At this they exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.

Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’[xviii]

Jesus denies the charges against him and goes on to explain that His words bring life. Those who obey them will never die, not speaking of a physical death, but rather a spiritual one. To be spiritually dead means that we are separated from God because of our sin. Jesus came to address the sin issue by taking our sins upon Himself as our substitute, so that we can experience his amazing life. Once again they were so locked into the physical aspect that they immediately point out that both Abraham and the prophets died, which in their minds suggested that Jesus was not dealing with reality. Once again the issue is, who is Jesus? Their statement is expressed negatively: ‘Who do you think you are?’ Or ‘Who do you make yourself out to be?’ Jesus knows who He is and is not trying to make himself what He is not.

Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.

Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word.

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’

‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ they said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’

‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’

At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.[xix]

Here we see that Jesus’ declaration of who he is creates such a fury that they are ready to literally ‘stone him,’ for as they ascertain, Jesus takes to himself God’s name, ‘I am.’ The fact that Jesus slipped away from the Temple is significant. In their historical past as a nations, when the people had abandoned God, His presence left them, and judgment was the inevitable result.

Kent Hughes, upon reflecting on this passage writes:

Satan is above all a deceiver, and those who follow him are characterized by deceit. They deceive themselves about their own hearts and about life. They deceive themselves about God and about the way of salvation, and some of them imagine that they are children of God when indeed they are not. This is the ultimate deception.[xx]

We are either a child of God or of Satan. There is no middle ground. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, challenged them to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). How can we know if we are believers? Do we truly love Jesus? Do we delight in doing God’s will as found in his word? Have our lives continued to change since following Jesus? If you can say yes, rejoice. If not, ask Christ into your life and He will enter into your innermost being and create a new beginning.

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[i]     John 8:31-32, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[ii]     Matthew 24:10-13.

[iii]    John 2:23-25.

[iv]    John 6:60-66.

[v]     D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 348.

[vi]    John 8:33.

[vii]   John 8:34-36.

[viii]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 350.

[ix]    Ibid.

[x]     Ibid.

[xi]    John 8:37-41.

[xii]   Romans 9:28-29.

[xiii]   John 8:42-45.

[xiv]   F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 200.

[xv]   2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.

[xvi]   John 8:46-47.

[xvii] John 8:48.

[xviii] John 8:49-53.

[xix]   John 8:54-59.

[xx]   R. Kent Hughes, Behold The Lamb: Expository Studies in the Gospel of John 1-10, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1984), 158.

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